Welcome to Part 1 of our series that recognizes our 2018 Retailers of the Year, as recognized by our sister publication Beverage Dynamics. In this post we honor Applejack Wine & Spirits of Denver, Fisher’s Liquor Barn of Grand Junction, and Liquor Factory of New Jersey.
Keep an eye out for future parts that will post in the coming weeks.
Beverage Dynamics for the second time opened up its annual Retailers of the Year Awards to a nomination process, attracting entries from top retailers across the country. Many received nominated from wholesalers, suppliers and other industry vendors, while some nominated themselves. All were required to complete a detailed entry form that included financial information, product mix, staffing and training policies, advertising spend and community engagement.
After our editorial team reviewed the entries, we chose 32 retailers as the best of the best. They represent every part of the off-premise industry, from single-store operations to large regional chains.
Winners will receive their awards at the second annual Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference in Denver. Congratulations to everyone who won, and good luck to the retailers who enter next year’s awards!
A Denver Landmark
By Sarah Protzman Howlett
As Denver experiences a major population and growth boom, it’s good to be Applejack Wine & Spirits, the 50-plus-year-old retailer located in nearby Wheat Ridge. Though it is ever evolving, Applejack continues to be a destination that carries special significance to customers new and old, says general manager Elizabeth Gregg.
“Customers tell me they started coming here with their dad when they were just a kid,” she says. “Some people come from the mountains and load up for the entire neighborhood. It’s amazing the amount of customers who drive across the country on an annual pilgrimage, taking pictures out front.”
Census Bureau data ranks Denver 11th on the list of U.S. cities with the greatest addition of residents. In the last year, Gregg says, the store embarked on a push to create a more comprehensive brand experience, overhauling and updating its logo, as well as the look and feel within the store.
New fixtures are made with wine boxes from France, and Gregg says she hopes new lighting and flooring will be installed this year. The single-location outpost is 45,000 square feet and was founded in 1961 by Alan Fries. Honoring Fries’ legacy of outstanding customer care, Gregg says Applejack of late is “really working on the people piece of the business”—but it’s been challenging.
“The most difficult thing in retail right now is finding top talent,” she says. The state’s unemployment is extremely low—about 2.3 percent, the Denver Post reported. To attract eager and devoted employees, Applejack offers health insurance, 401K with match and paid time off for full-time employees. Right now, there are 80 full-time employees, 20 part-time and 15 managers, many rising up within the company from entry-level positions. “Cashiers and cart boys can become a manager; they can become a buyer,” she says, adding that “We have a beer guy interested in being a cicerone, so we are paying for that education for him.”
Employees are also encouraged to attend distillery tours, brewery tours and tasting events to broaden their expertise and learn about new products. One Applejack employee recently attended wine classes in Portugal, and another has traveled to Mexico for a tequila course, Gregg says. Applejack is also proud that it carries (or can order) many specialized products for collectors and enthusiasts. “We have cordials that are very, very hard to find,” Gregg says. “We get calls from all over the world from burgundy and Bordeaux collectors.”
On the operations front, Gregg says streamlining the entire ERP, POS and eCommerce platforms to better integrate was also necessary, as the previous system was “not keeping up with the amount of transactions due to the growth we’re seeing.”
This year, Applejack also launched a new loyalty program—currently 50,000 members strong—that offers special pricing for members. It primarily advertises on radio and billboards, and does a little social media or direct mail—but has gained traction with social media boosted posts and consumer giveaways. Applejack’s email marketing database has some 70,000 people and runs on a defined schedule and product strategy to drive repeat purchases.
It offers free delivery in the Denver metro area and throughout mountain towns like Vail and Aspen, where it makes weekly deliveries. It also ships throughout the United States. Those two efforts combined have seen a 52 percent year-over-year growth, Gregg says. It added more vans this year for delivery, with still more to come. “We were doing a little delivery in 2015 when I started this job,” she recalls, “and now we have a team of over 15 people.”
Applejack also has a strong community presence, having supported over 60 local non-profit organizations in in the past year alone, including University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Jeffco Public Schools, Jefferson Center of Mental Health and Wheat Ridge Community Foundation.
Though there are many regular longtime customers, Gregg says, some who haven’t been to Applejack in a few years “will come in and ask for Alan,” who died in 2014. “That’s the kind of presence he had in the store, and that carried down to my employees,” she says. “It’s hard to establish the kind of relationship [he did] with the customer nowadays.”